Childhood Trauma

Diane McGeachy

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist
Accredited Gestalt Psychotherapist
Hobart, Tasmania

Trauma is an event or series of events in which a person feels helpless and pushed beyond their ability to cope. It can be life threatening or a significant threat to a person’s physical or psychological wellbeing. Traumatic experiences can feel intolerable and unbearable. People who have experienced interpersonal trauma often feel damaged and unsalvageable at their very core. They carry with them a sense of deep shame about who they are and often feel disconnected from others and the world around them. There are three main types of trauma; simple trauma, complex trauma and developmental trauma.

Simple Trauma

Simple trauma is often a one-time event. It involves an event that is life threatening or one that can cause serious injury. Examples of simple trauma are:

  • Earthquake
  • Hurricane
  • Bushfire
  • Car accident
  • Robbery

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma is often multiple incidents which take place over a period of time. It involves interpersonal threat and/or violation. Examples of complex trauma include:

  • Child abuse (physical, psychological, sexual or neglect)
  • Rape
  • Domestic violence
  • War/torture
  • Bullying

Developmental Trauma

Developmental trauma occurs when children experience trauma while their brains are still developing. Children have heightened vulnerability to traumatic events due to their immature brain development and heavy reliance on significant adults in their life. Trauma is particularly damaging to a child when it involves a violation by a carer or significant adult in the child’s life. Trauma can slow or impair a child’s natural developmental succession. Developmental trauma can also consist of complex trauma. Examples of developmental trauma includes children who have experienced;

  • Neglect
  • Abuse
  • Living in environments where family violence took place or where there were high levels of parental conflict

Impacts from Childhood Trauma on Adult Survivors

Many people who experienced childhood trauma do their best to try and bury it deep inside and forget it happened. It takes tremendous effort and energy to function while carrying the heavy burden of trauma. Although many people try to convince themselves they are fine, or deny that anything terrible happened to them our brains and our bodies are not easily convinced. This is why some individuals feel acute levels of anxiety, depression and uncomfortable physical sensations. At the slightest perception of perceived danger people can act impulsively, aggressively or shut down. They often do not understand the connection between what is happening now and their past trauma and feel out of control, very afraid and can believe they are going crazy.

Common Reactions and Symptoms of Trauma


  • Excessive alertness
  • Startled easily
  • Feeling jumpy and on edge
  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Aches and pains
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dissociation


  • Intrusive thoughts and memories
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion


  • Avoidance of places, people, smells or activities
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Substance Misuse
  • Eating Disorders


  • Fear
  • Numbness and detachment
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Need for control
  • Feelings of powerlessness

Intimate Relationships

The impacts of childhood trauma often surface in our adult intimate relationships. When an individual has experienced a violation of their being it can be so overwhelming and destructive that they become polarised, meaning they can develop a rigid and fixed way of responding to their environment. This can serve a purpose for a period of time, however ultimately it tends to get in the way of being able to deal with challenges and difficulties in a healthy and growth promoting way. Common issues that people struggle with in intimate relationships revolve around; safety, fear of abandonment and trust. Each person copes or creatively adjusts from their trauma in unique ways. Some people have an overwhelming fear of conflict and attempt to keep themselves safe through excessive pleasing in relationships. It can feel impossible to say no to others. Other people feel deeply that something is wrong or damaged about them and believe that no one could possibly love them. It is common for individuals to have difficulty with trust and intimacy in their relationships. This may result in never allowing oneself to get too close and having several short term relationships. For those in ongoing relationships they may constantly scan for any sign that their partner will abandon them.

Healing From Childhood Trauma

Healing from childhood trauma is possible. It can help to work through your experience with a trained Counsellor or Psychologist who understands the severity and the impacts of childhood trauma. The therapeutic process is different for each person, however you can expect to feel safe, supported and validated. Research consistently shows that the quality of the relationship between the client and therapist is the most important factor in the effectiveness of therapy as opposed to the type of training or therapeutic model that is used. If you choose to enter counselling finding a practitioner whom you feel comfortable with is essential in being able to work through your difficulties and develop a more satisfying quality of life.

If you have a child who has experienced trauma or you are an adult who would like to work through your childhood trauma and would like to book an appointment contact Diane McGeachy.

Diane McGeachy
Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist
Accredited Gestalt Psychotherapist

Phone: (03) 6285 8592

Hobart Counselling Centre
Level 1,
181 Elizabeth Street Hobart TAS 7000